I saw robins today on the lawn! Five of them! Six. Seven. What a hopeful, happy sight! (And yes, I’m using too many exclamation points!)
In this second week of March in the northeast, the birds’ presence signals—after a long, cold, hard, hapless winter—the near-beginning of spring. The birds are a harbinger of warmth. Of new beginnings. Of growth. Of life. Of renewal.
This is a wonderful thing, since a stubborn wrapping of snow still covers parts of the earth around here and most of us have had enough of it.
I stopped abruptly during a brisk walk through and around the neighborhood to take in the sight and watched these birds peck into the ground, on the hunt for worms. Just as I was standing still to watch them, the birds also stood still for a few seconds, feathers unmoving, as they listened, looked, sensed for the wriggling movement of worms in the moist ground beneath them.
Each bird then ran a bit across the grass, stopped, listened, looked again, perceiving the potential prey. And cocked its head sharply.
And then, in a flash, the robins pecked madly at the grass and the dirt, digging with sharp strokes, once, twice, three times—almost always bringing up a meal to swallow and consume and sustain themselves for the task of raising their young in the weeks and months ahead.
Robins demonstrate keen attention, smart adaptation, and healthy habits—even in tough times.
Last year around this time, when I wrote about the robin as our country first faced the coronavirus pandemic, I mentioned that while living in northern New Jersey and New York, I paid little or no attention to this common American bird. It was just there. It wasn’t the most beautiful bird, nor the flashiest. It didn’t seem distinguished. But pre-COVID, like so many other people, I was busy rushing here and there, getting things done, taking care of things, holding a household together.
Did I even really see the robin?
Yet there’s a reason this popular little creature is the standout bird of not one state, but three (Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin). It’s beautiful, effective, persistent—and hardy.
With “the backing of the influential Michigan Audubon Society, legislators adopted the robin as the state bird in 1931, and it became official April 8 of that year,” a piece in The Detroit Free Press explained not long ago. “The red-breasted bug-gobblers were called ‘the best known and best loved of all the birds in the state of Michigan.’” (Apparently the chickadee lobby had some fervent objections and the Kirtland’s warbler camp had a case to make, too, but such “aviary coups” have failed thus far.)
Scores of material has been written about the prevalent and popular robin, but this telling excerpt from the Journey North program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum is a favorite of mine:
Q. How is a robin’s body adapted to its lifestyle and habitat?
A. Robins have sturdy legs with muscles designed for running or hopping, allowing them to speedily evade predators and efficiently cover open ground while hunting. Their colors are bright enough to attract mates and defend territories without being so bright to alert predators too often. Their syrinx (“song box”) has complex muscles allowing them to sing rich, complex songs that can carry a long distance. Their esophagus is exceptionally stretchy to allow them to eat huge quantities of berries before nightfall in winter, to allow them to survive cold temperatures without being able to eat in the dark. Their intestines are developed for digesting waxy berry coatings and for getting most of the food value out of worms. Their wings have a pointed shape, the most common shape for birds that migrate using a flapping flight. Their tail is medium-length for quick steering as they fly through branches.
Today, I celebrate the robin. I’m grateful for it. I’m truly happy to see it.
This wild bird is demonstrating that life goes on and creatures can thrive—and that we will get through the current crisis. We’ve made progress. We’re getting there.
We know what to do. And we’ve worked together to do it.
Yes, we’ve suffered terribly. Many people have endured unspeakable losses. Yet as the Bible reminds us, “Only in God is my soul at rest; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.” (Psalm 62:2-3).
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Maureen Mackey is a writer, editor, web content strategist, and regular contributor to Christian News Journal.